Schuyler man follows calling through flood relief - Catholic Courier

Schuyler man follows calling through flood relief

It wouldn”t be hard for David Webster to live a worry-free life, if he so chose. He and his wife, Mary Jo, reside on Seneca Lake and spend their winters in Florida. Their three children are grown. He”s been retired for 13 years and is in great health at age 66.

But whenever he learns of people who are devastated by natural disasters, Webster experiences an inner tug. Time and again, that feeling has sprung him into action.

"I see the stuff going on out there, the damage. I can”t sit here on my front porch, looking at the lake, while people are hurting," said Webster, a resident of Hector in northern Schuyler County.

Webster has taken part in flood-relief efforts from the Rochester Diocese to the Gulf Coast. His most recent volunteer turn came in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — one of many sections of the Midwest to be crippled by flooding in recent months.

Webster, who drove to Iowa alone in his truck, worked on 15 houses in Cedar Rapids between July 9 and July 23. The damage occurred after the Cedar River flooded over its banks on June 12, forcing the evacuation of several thousand area homes. Webster served as a team leader for such tasks as pumping water out of basements, removing muck with 5-gallon buckets, and — in the worst cases — razing the structures. He said residents would occasionally stop by to see what was going on, but for the most part he worked in "very quiet neighborhoods" since virtually all the homes were uninhabitable.

This particular relief effort was coordinated by Samaritan”s Purse, a nondenominational Christian relief organization based in North Carolina. Webster slept on an air mattress, alongside numerous other volunteers, on the floor of Hillside Wesleyan Church.

"The people are just fantastic to work with. Before going out to a job site we”d hold hands and pray. It was a nice start to the day," Webster said, adding that volunteers in Cedar Rapids also made a practice of giving Bibles to homeowners: "The emphasis on Christ, the praying, the camaraderie — I think it”s the most uplifting one of these things I”ve ever done."

In the past few years Webster and his wife have logged additional flood-relief duty, mainly through Catholic Charities and the Red Cross. This included toiling for a total of five weeks along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in towns that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "What was left of them, actually," Webster remarked. They also assisted in Tioga County in 2006, after flooding of the Susquehanna River left considerable damage there. In addition, they do volunteer home-building with Habitat for Humanity while residing in Florida.

These experiences have left Webster with indelible images, such as residents walking around in a daze weeks after the flooding had occurred. He recalled an elderly woman whose childhood home was destroyed, and a couple who lost the retirement home they”d been building — a week before they were to move in. Many other people have collapsed in tears in his arms.

"You do what you can do to help them and comfort them, and they appreciate it so much," he said. "I sometimes break down talking about it. It makes you realize how lucky you do have it."

The Websters attend St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen. David — who is not Catholic but has attended Catholic churches regularly over the years with his wife and children — noted a definite link between his church participation and his passion for helping those in need.

"I keep busy. I got bit by the volunteering bug," he said.

Apparently, that bite has penetrated right to his soul.

"It”s such a drive inside of you. People said to me it”s a calling from the Lord, and I”ve come to decide that”s what it is," he acknowledged.

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